Last week, I wrote about the Edmonton Police Service and its growing budget. Now that City Council has approved the 2015 Budgets and the police have shared their reaction, I thought it was worth a follow-up.
As part of the 2015 budget, EPS had already been approved for 52 new officers. On top of that they asked for 84 more officers and FTEs, citing the new arena district and transit policing, but in the end Council only agreed to fund 35 new positions.
Photo by Aaron
Councillor Loken did make a motion to increase the EPS budget by $5.183 million, but only he, Councillor Gibbons, and Councillor Caterina supported it. A later motion from Councillor Caterina proposing to increase EPS funding by $1.589 million for Transit Policing failed by a 5-8 vote, and a motion to increase funding by $7.810 million for Downtown Revitalization and Transit Policing was withdrawn. Mayor Iveson’s motion to approve the package for 35 FTEs with $2.437 million narrowly passed with a 7-6 vote.
So of the 136 new positions they were hoping for, EPS got 87 funded. Pretty good, you might think, but the police are not happy about it.
The police reaction to the budget outcome was charitably called “disappointing” by Councillor Oshry on Twitter. Tony Simioni, outgoing president of the Edmonton Police Association, made most of the comments. Here’s a sample:
“It has reached a point now where I think it’s critical,” he told the Journal.
“We’ve been very lucky in the City of Edmonton in the last 25 years. It’s just been by the grace of God that we haven’t lost any more members in the line of service,” he told the Edmonton Sun.
“I shudder to see that day coming but, if this trend continues, it’s going to occur,” he told Global Edmonton.
“We’re going have some grave consequences in public safety and in our ability to get to the calls in a timely fashion, where we already are having difficulty.” he told CTV Edmonton. “We’re the only agency that’s open twenty four seven, 365 days. So many agencies have shut down services due to lack of funding or whatever the case may be, and it’s been downloaded on sloughed off on the men and women in the Edmonton Police Service.”
Nevermind that back in 2011 when the police were under heavy scrutiny thanks to a record number of homicides, Simioni was basically saying the opposite thing. “I don’t think Edmonton is a dangerous place to live,” he told the Journal at the time. “The average citizen walking the streets in Edmonton is as safe as the average citizen walking the streets of Calgary.”
Simioni wasn’t the only one “sounding the alarm” on Friday as many in the media put it. Staff Sgt. Bill Clark also shared his comments with the Edmonton Sun:
“We’ve got several councillors out there that just don’t get it,” said the veteran officer, adding some, including Councillors Tony Caterina and Ed Gibbons are the odd ones out who do seem to get it.
“How you can justify $8 million for bike lanes, $3 million for a net on the High Level Bridge when you can look at the Groat Road Bridge and go jump off of that bridge, are you kidding me?” said Clark.
“It is simply ridiculous and we’re tired of it. The buck stops with city council. The provincial government needs to step up but that should have been done years ago.”
In my opinion, these comments are intentionally misleading and sensational, to say the least. If I worked for the police in any capacity, I’d be embarrassed by them. Heck as a taxpaying citizen I can’t believe that was the reaction!
Photo by Kurt Bauschardt
First of all, these representatives are willfully conflating the Operating and Capital Budgets. Both bike lanes and the High Level Bridge safety rail are funded out of the Capital Budget, whereas police officer salaries are funded out of the Operating Budget. I would suggest that if you’re going to question the decisions made by Council on the record, you should know the difference. It’s not like the police received nothing in the Capital Budget, either. Council funded a new helicopter, a new Emergency Operations Centre, a police investigation and management centre, and a new police division station for Northwest Edmonton, among other things. Many tens of millions of dollars will be spent on police-related projects this cycle.
Second, whenever they don’t get their way, police representatives seem perfectly happy to suggest that crime is on the increase. All published statistics suggest otherwise, and whenever you question their performance rather than their budget, the story is that crime is down and the police are doing an effective job. This has been documented again and again by the local media. I suggest the eight crime indicators that EPS claims to measure daily be made available in the open data catalogue and on the Citizen Dashboard, so that there’s no uncertainty about the crime stats.
Third, I think it’s ridiculous that police representatives are willing to suggest that funding the police service is the only way to improve community safety. Council increased the REACH Edmonton budget by $500,000 to fund Schools as Community Hubs and Out of School Time, for instance. They also approved $107,000 to fund the Green Shack program in 20 high needs communities. On the Capital Budget side, the High Level Bridge safety rail is the most obvious example. There’s a wide range of initiatives and projects that Council supported that will ultimately contribute to the health and safety of our community.
Fourth, let’s be real: many organizations in Edmonton contribute to the safety of the community in a very direct way, and they do it with far smaller budgets than the police service does. Look at the Edmonton Public Library for instance, which recently expanded its outreach program with Boyle Street Community Services to help those in need. I don’t see them “sloughing off” any work to the police.
About the only comment made by the police that is easy to agree with is the assertion that the Province needs to provide more funding to help deal with the pressures of growth and the unique challenges that come along with being a large city. But again, I call on the police to make their case with facts and data, rather than offhand comments in the media. Work with Council to build a solid case.
I think the police in Edmonton do great work in our city, but I’m disappointed with the way they play the game when it comes to budgets. Instead of facts, we get dire warnings. Instead of a can-do attitude, we get negativity and blaming. I think they can do better.